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One of the Greatest Investments of My Career

By Porter Stansberry
Thursday, February 16, 2012

The secret, as I explained, is to look for "capital efficient" businesses. These are companies that can grow richer every year without demanding continuing investment.  
In the inflationary crisis I see coming, owning these stocks is the single-best way for investors to grow wealth, rather than lose it. But there's one important variable I didn't discuss yesterday... How much should you pay for a stock like this, or any other long-term investment?  
This ends up being the most important decision you make... 
Back in December 2007, I first recommended shares of Hershey (NYSE: HSY) – calling it "Our Best No Risk Opportunity Ever."  
When I recommended Hershey, I was convinced it would become one of the greatest investments of my career. I remain convinced now. Why am I so certain?  
First, because it's incredibly capital efficient. Since 2005, Hershey had repurchased more than $1 billion worth of its own stock – more than 10% of the company, in addition to paying large ($200 million-plus) cash dividends. It has paid 325 quarterly dividends in a row – 81 years. It has increased its dividend payout every year since 1974.  
On a combined basis (dividends and buybacks), the company pays out a remarkably large amount of the cash it produces. For example... in 2008, the company produced a little more than $500 million in cash from operations. It spent nearly $300 million on dividends and share buybacks. (It also repaid $128 million in debt.) 
Hershey can afford to return so much capital to its shareholders because it requires little capital to grow. Over the last 15 years, the company's annual capital spending has remained essentially unchanged. In 1997, the firm invested $172 million in property and equipment. By the end of 2010, its annual capital budget had only increased to $179 million – essentially unchanged. Meanwhile, cash profits had reached nearly $1 billion – growth of nearly 200%.  
As I showed you yesterday, this is the beauty of a capital-efficient business: While sales and profits grow, capital investments don't. 
But when I made my recommendation of Hershey, there was another consideration... It was selling for a "no risk" price.
I use an easy rule of thumb when trying to figure out a safe price to pay for a stock... 
First, figure out how much money it would take to buy back every share at the current market price and add in the total net debt of the company. The number you'll end up with is called enterprise value. That's the figure it would cost (in theory) for the company to buy itself. Next, just figure out if there's any realistic way the company could afford to buy itself.  
Few companies actually go private this way... But bear with me.  
In Hershey's case, its enterprise value is currently $15 billion. For the company to borrow this much money, it would have to afford roughly $1 billion a year in interest payments (assuming 7% interest). That's more than its operating income... which means Hershey can't currently afford to buy itself.
On the other hand... when we first recommended the stock, its shares were about 50% cheaper, which put its enterprise value down around $10 billion. Doing the same calculation leaves you with an annual interest bill of around $700 million – something that was just inside the range of possibility back in 2009, when the company earned $769 million from operations.
Doing this kind of analysis shows whether a company could realistically repay all of its debts and all of its shares. Assuming it can afford to do both, there's no fundamental difference between the risk of its stock and the risk in its bonds – because all the bonds and shares could be repurchased.
And that means on a fundamental basis, you're getting all the upside of the shares – all the upside of being an owner – with the same low risk of being a creditor.  
I call this buying at a "no-risk" price. There's no additional risk to buying the equity compared with the debt.
This is the best analysis to consider before you buy any stock – but especially one you're buying to hold for the long term. You have to make sure you will be comfortable enough to wait for the payoff. You have to make sure you've bought at a good, safe price.
While Hershey is just a tad too expensive to buy right now, based on this analysis... you should watch the stock closely. Assuming shares pull back about 10% or so, it could again be purchased using our no-risk criteria. In this case, you'd have a situation where you are extremely unlikely to lose money that's likely to compound at about 15% year over the long term, and that you are extremely unlikely to ever have to sell.  
That's exactly the kind of situation you should be looking for, all the time.
I urge you to make a list of companies like Hershey, companies that are extremely capital efficient. Strive to buy the companies whose products and services you believe are most loved and most likely to be extremely long-lived. Try to acquire assets that your children's children will never want to sell.
Determine the price at which you can buy them on a no-risk basis... And then wait for your opportunity. This is the secret to Warren Buffett's investment approach that few people talk about. It has allowed him to compound wealth at an astonishing rate. It can help you do the same.
Porter Stansberry

Further Reading:

The most successful investor in history, Warren Buffett, made his fortune by following the same guidelines Porter laid out today – buying capital-efficient businesses... And as Porter says, if you want to prosper during the inflationary crisis he sees coming, it's critical you understand the only sure way to get rich in stocks.

Market Notes


Today's chart is a reminder of why we often heap abuse on the idea of investing in "clean energy." 
Over the years, we've highlighted many times that knowing WHAT NOT TO invest in is even more important than knowing WHAT TO invest in. That cautionary statement often precedes commentary on clean energy stocks... These companies are typically such terrible businesses, we say they are "perfectly hedged." They are able to lose money in both good and bad economic times. Their stocks are able to stink in both bull and bear markets.
One of the highest profile plays here is the PowerShares Clean Energy Fund (NYSE: PBW). As an easy, "one click" way to go long solar, wind, and various other clean energy companies, this fund has drawn in hundreds of millions of investor dollars over the years. Many of these dollars have gone up to "money heaven," however...  
Today's chart plots the performance of the PBW (black line) versus the performance of the benchmark S&P 500 index (blue line) over the past two years. You may recall how 2010 through early 2011 was a period of rising stock prices. During this period, the PBW lagged the broad index (A).  
You may also recall that mid-to-late 2011 was a period of falling stock prices. During this period, the PBW suffered an enormous decline... one much worse than the overall market suffered (B). Want to stay "perfectly hedged?" Want something that offers "return-free risk?" Buy clean energy!
PBW Clean Energy Remains Perfectly Hedged

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